HONG KONG — In a 20-minute segment about China that aired Sunday on the satirical news show “Last Week Tonight,” the host John Oliver brought up President Xi Jinping’s resemblance to Winnie the Pooh.
That, among other delicate references, seems to have touched a nerve in China, where the British comedian has now been censored on a major social media platform — just as the cartoon bear had been.
“Apparently, Xi Jinping is very sensitive about his perceived resemblance to Winnie the Pooh,” Mr. Oliver said on the show. “And I’m not even sure it’s that strong a resemblance, to be honest. But the fact he’s annoyed about it means people will never stop bringing it up.”
Attempts to create posts containing the words “John Oliver” on Weibo, a popular Chinese microblogging platform, resulted in an error message on Thursday saying the post may violate “rules and regulations.” Quite a few posts mentioning Mr. Oliver were visible on the platform, but none referred to the China episode, and the most recent had been posted a few days before it aired.
In Sunday’s segment, Mr. Oliver walked viewers through Mr. Xi’s rise, becoming China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong. Besides joking about the Winnie the Pooh ban — which censors imposed after social media users began pointing out the resemblance — Mr. Oliver made harder-hitting critiques of China’s human rights record, including its “dystopian levels of surveillance and persecution” of Uighur Muslims and the imprisonment of dissidents like the Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo.
He also said that by removing presidential term limits, Mr. Xi was dismantling important safeguards. “It’s worth knowing that the term limits he had successfully eliminated were put in place for a pretty good reason, specifically to avoid another Mao, under whose regime some horrific things happened in China,” Mr. Oliver said.
He added that Mr. Xi’s concern for his public image stemmed from his fear of an Arab Spring-style revolt as China’s economic growth slows.
“Clamping down on Winnie the Pooh comparisons doesn’t exactly project strength,” Mr. Oliver said. Instead, it suggested “a weird insecurity.”
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